Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is set to change the way we work. It’s like smart phone superseding the traditional button-dialed phone. The gap between those who know and those who don’t will give rise to large productivity differences between individuals. A staff who knows RPA is able to easily perform the work of 2 or more staff. It is not just admin task, but it cuts across all functions of HR, Finance, Legal, Supply Chain Operations, Sales and so on. There were discussions of job losses that will result from this technology. And further leveling of organizational hierarchies as staff functions move up the responsibility chain.
But just how easy is it to master RPA. RPA is often marketed as “easy to learn by non-IT staff”. But is that the case on the ground. Let’s take a look at the classroom learning environment of 3 staff. My colleague who is well versed in business processes, without IT background, was still figuring out how to get the automation working after an hour. Another colleague who taught programming and quality is able to make progress in troubleshooting some of the steps. I had developed application systems in the past using Java, and was able to independently developed and create RPA use cases within an hour. Though IT know-how are not required, but programming logic do help a long way in establishing expertise in RPA.
If we were to look at similar function program codes written by two developers, we will realize that they will always be different and this will result in efficiency differences. One program can be more elegantly maintained, uses less computer resources, while another uses more and could be difficult to maintain. Those who have developed large IT systems will know good developers are in magnitudes of 10s. 1 expert developer can be equivalent to 30 mediocre developers.
As with collaborative and autonomous robots helping blue collar workers on pick and place operations and material handling, we will see RPA doing the role of repetitive white collar workers. There will be a new range of roles around RPA. But the roles’ requirements will be similar to that of Data Scientists having combined expertise of mathematics, computer science and business. For RPA to work, the staff need to be familiar with their business operations, process-oriented thinking built on lean experience. As well as computer science logic skills to easily read and implement RPA. As new technologies are released, RPA bots will require maintenance and optimization correspondingly.
You may ask, wouldn’t it be better to just setup a separate department to do RPA. That’s where the speed of business change come into discussion. Communicating requirements, developing it and testing it takes time. And that was what traditional IT department does. RPA helps to narrow the gap between business user and IT, such that business users are able to play the role of data automation without the need for IT staff. RPA is set to position itself next to the role currently played by MS Office and ERP. With greater adoption of RPA across an organization, we will also see substantial productivity gains across.